Last summer, with gas prices rising, several leading Republicans came up with a curious accusation: President Obama was causing pain at the pump deliberately, as part of some undefined environmental agenda. This odd line was pushed by Haley Barbour and the Koch brothers, among others.
In the ensuing months, prices came back down, and the talking point went away. Apparently, it's back.
GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich this morning chided the Obama administration, saying the president has "a goal getting us to pay European-level prices" for gas.
If it were only coming from Gingrich, this might be easier to dismiss, but it's an increasingly common line of attack. Even Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), allegedly one of the GOP's grown-ups, told Fox News last week that imposing higher gas prices on American consumers is the "conscious policy of this administration."
Much of this seems to be the result of a foolish interpretation of recent congressional testimony from Energy Secretary Steven Chu, but even putting that aside, I wonder if Republicans seriously expect anyone to believe their rhetoric on this. The argument Americans are supposed to believe is that President Obama, in an election year, not only has the power to manipulate gas prices at will, but is trying to raise them -- on purpose -- to the dismay of consumers.
The follow-up question is rather straightforward: why on earth would Obama want to do that? It doesn't even take much in the way of critical thinking skills to know the answer: he wouldn't.
Unfortunately for Republicans, the attack isn't likely to work, not only because it's painfully foolish, but because there's polling data that suggests Americans aren't inclined to blame the president for gas prices anyway.
In fact, Jared Bernstein published this chart the other day, noting that the public is increasingly less likely to blame the president for pain at the pump than it was in 2005.
Jared added, "That's a good sign, because there's just about nothing a president or any other policy maker can do about this in the near term. More drilling wouldn't help and, in fact, domestic energy production is way up."
Someone might want to let Newt Gingrich and Mitch Daniels know.